Expository preaching from John 15:12-17, delivered on July 10th, 2016
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12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12-17)
This morning we will take a short break from 1 Timothy and go to John 15:12-17. With all the events of the last week, I thought it would be good for us to be reminded of our duty to love, to love one another even in the face of great tragedy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a command. And that command is that we love one another. So if we look around this morning at those sitting at our left and our right, in front of and behind, you can know that the Lord has placed those people around us with purpose, and has laid upon each one of us a certain responsibility, and that stated responsibility is that we love.
Paul states in Ephesians 4:3 that one reason for this mutual love in the church is that there be true unity – “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In fact what Paul is saying there is that if we walk rightly before God as a church, or as he puts in Ephesians 4:1, walk in a manner worthy of our calling, then that walk will be one of such love that unity will be achieved. And think of how important it is for the witness of the gospel that the watching world observe true love among God’s people, the church! True, active, working love is to be put on display and practiced in the church.
Obviously this command, that we love one another as Christ loved us, also reaches beyond the walls of any church building. The body of Christ extends around the world, which increases our ability and privilege and opportunities to love. In the context of our passage, Jesus is speaking directly to His followers, to believers, as He instructs them on love. We know elsewhere in Scripture as we discussed last week that we are to also love our neighbors as ourselves, our neighbors being the world of all people around us. And so if we are to love all those within the body of Christ and also those who are not of the faith, then we are to really be a loving people. I mean, if this is true then wherever we go, whatever we do there will always be people around us to whom we can show love. Opportunities for active obedience are everywhere for us! In other words, we must always be in a mode or walk in a spirit of love toward others.
If this is true, when can we ever take a break from loving others? Does the duty to love ever end? Well the answer is no. And if we are to constantly love, wherever we go, whatever we do, love in word and in deed and even in thought at all times, then it is imperative that we understand what this love looks like in real life. And so as Jesus tells us that we must love, He then reminds His disciples and us how He first has demonstrated this love as an example for us
As Jesus during this final evening with His followers speaks with them, He continues to give them exactly what they will need to carry them through the trial to come. The greatest trial for them had not yet come, it was on its way, it was coming quickly, and Jesus knew that and was preparing them for it. In fact He gives them, while with them, what they will need for the rest of their time on this earth. He knows their needs and He is right now in this text meeting their needs both current and future. In fact on this night so long ago when Jesus spoke these words, He was also meeting a need in your life and in mine. These words have been preserved for you and for me, even today. These words are here to meet our current needs that we may have and our future needs of which only He knows.
When circumstances begin to swirl around these disciples and confusion sets in, when what they knew as normal begins to vanish from their lives, when Jesus is nailed to the cross and breathes His last, when all of the hate aimed at Jesus is refocused and aimed at them, they will need to remember the words of Christ and they will need to know of His love for them, even though not with them bodily, so that they will be able to love others, that the gospel might be spread. Notice I did not say just so they might survive in their crisis, but I said that they might be able to love others for the spread of the gospel and the glory of God in their crisis. Survival alone is not the goal to be achieved in the middle of crisis. The goal is to glorify and honor God even when in crisis.
And so Jesus, after commanding them to love each other as He has loved them, He begins to press upon them the extent of such love. Verse 13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Jesus demonstrates love in that He died for us. Jesus had already sacrificed much in living and He was about to sacrifice in dying. This giving of life, specifically Jesus giving of His life through death, is the fulfillment of ultimate love, isn’t it?
If Christ is showing us by example how to love, which He is, then certainly if we were to ever have an opportunity to give our life through death for a brother or sister we could, and that would be love. Christ Jesus did that for us, it was the ultimate gift. But we need to realize that while giving of our lives in death is a great sacrifice, we can also give our lives daily in love, in sacrifice, while we live. I think that is what Paul meant in Romans 12:1 when he said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Jesus sacrificed for His friends in life and in death. We see this theme all throughout Scripture, that is of ultimate sacrifice of our lives for Christ which is seen in loving other people. Paul speaks of this in Philippians 1. He states that ultimately the goal in life for him is that he honor Christ. He said, and I love this, I hope you do too, he says that his greatest or earnest expectation and hope is (in other words, this is what is most important to him), his greatest or earnest expectation and hope was that Christ be magnified in his body whether by life or by death. That is an attitude of sacrificial living for Christ, loving Christ, which then spills over in love for others. You get the picture there of Paul just laying all that he has before God and saying, “Here you go Lord. This life is not mine, it is yours, do with it as you please, I am here for your glory, for the honor of your great name, take me or leave me here, only do it for your glory, for your honor, and for your praise!”
Now, you may say the command is to love others and now we are talking about loving Christ. That is right. I’m not changing the message. I just want to keep this vital connection before us, that Jesus began this teaching with the command to abide in Christ, to love and yield to and follow Christ. Then He speaks of and commands that we love others. They are woven together, loving Christ and loving others. Our love for Christ must drive our love for others. It begins with commitment to Christ Jesus.
Jesus goes on to illustrate His love for these men and for us by calling them friends.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
Jesus calls them friends, not servants but friends, inviting them into intimate fellowship. He describes a servant as one who does not know what his master is doing. A servant is given tasks to perform. They do what they are told. They don’t usually know why they are doing what they are doing. They are not given the privilege of knowing their master’s plans or goals. They are treated as simple laborers.
Jesus tells these men, “You are not as servants.” He is saying, “You have been elevated above that, you are on the inside now.” Jesus is saying, “I am not holding back information that God has given me to give you. I am freely communicating to you my Father’s plans and His goals for you and for this world. You are not an outsider, you are a part of the inner circle. You have been brought into a position of honor with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” We will share His mansions in heaven and we will eat at His table.
So we have the command to love as Christ loved. We see that His love was sacrificial, He gave His life. We also learn that Jesus calls us friends, we move into intimate fellowship with Him and His work. And then we see in verse 16 what adds even more depth to this friendship or fellowship with Christ when He says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
From the human perspective it seems very clear that we chose Christ. From the disciples’ perspective it would seem very clear that although Jesus called them to follow, they chose to follow Him…because they did. From the divine vantage point it is equally as clear, though difficult to grasp in our experience, that Christ chose us. We know that we chose Him because we willingly, by an act of our will, according to our own desire, consciously received Him. None of us were coerced against our will or forcefully moved to do something that we did not want to do when we entered into a living relationship with Christ Jesus. In other words, no one comes to Christ with a hardened heart. No, the heart is made pliable and willing so that as we come, we come desiring Him. And yet behind it all was a loving God wooing us, leading us, changing our hearts, changing our minds, instilling in us a desire for change, for new life, and a realization of the awfulness of sin. God was at work before we took any step toward Him. He loved us before we loved Him. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The order is true. It is Christ who takes the initiative. It is He who first pursued us.
Salvation is not some mechanical event, no. It is a God who seeks out and chooses and woos and draws and works and changes hearts, and it goes beyond that. It is our God who after drawing us lays before us all that we are to do in His Kingdom. He does not choose us, draw us, and save us that we can just sit back and deal with life in this world as usual. No, He has plans for us, there is great purpose behind our entrance into His family. He has appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit shall remain.
This is part of His love and it is a result of His love. He is saying, “I have saved you AND I am going to allow you participation in the greatest Kingdom, with the greatest purpose imaginable. There is fruit for you to produce that will bring glory to the Father as you abide in me and that will be lasting fruit, eternal fruit. My love for you will make it possible, my sacrifice for you is what makes this possible, your union with me as my friend will energize you and your fellowship of love for each other will help carry you in this work of producing lasting fruits of service and ministry.”
Jesus is piling truth upon truth upon truth, giving them what they need to believe and to continue on. You need direction? Do you just wonder where to go in life at times? Do you just lose your way, becoming bogged down in the normal struggles of life? Here you go, here is direction for you: love one another, you must love one another to make it in this Christian life. Jesus is saying, “That is my will for you.” Do you need help with that? Of course we do. Do you need a committed helper, do you need to know that there is someone strong behind you and who is committed to help you love others? Jesus is saying, “Do you need to know that I am committed to you as my follower? Will that give you strength and courage to go on?” Do we need to know of the depth of His commitment? Yes! “Let me show you commitment, I will lay down my life for you,” that is the level of our committed Lord. Jesus is saying, “Do you need more than an understanding of my commitment to you? How about intimacy? Do you need continued close fellowship with me in order to have the strength to love others as I have loved? Okay, I will call you my friend, you will be my friends in fellowship, I will be your loyal friend. Do you need more? How about assurance? Do you need to know that this is not just all of your own doing? Do you need to know that this is not some one-sided deal where I am a reluctant participant? Just remember, I chose you. You are my chosen ones before the foundation of the world. I know who you are, I know what you are like and I have chosen to put my hand upon your life and carry you all the way to eternal glory. Do you need work? I will give you divinely appointed work so that you can actively participate in my Kingdom in just the way that is absolutely best for you.” He has appointed us to bear fruit. Paul says it like this, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” He gives us work, He gives us purpose.
He then finishes verse 16 by reminding us that if we walk abiding in Him and His love we will be in such union with Him and His will that whatever we ask the Father in His name it will be done. He is just taking care of everything…everything. He shows us again and again that He has and is providing everything that we need for life and godliness! The provision of our Lord is so complete.
That is how Jesus is comforting these men. He is showing them how they can go on even in the extremely difficult circumstances that are about to engulf them. The environment around them is about to change so dramatically that without these anchors of truth in their lives they will have no chance of enduring them for the glory of God. Oh, isn’t this where we are? The days are changing for us. Our culture is in many ways becoming unrecognizable. Even in the last week, tragic events effecting us all. We can relate to difficult times. For the disciples it is not a matter of convenience that they know these truths, it is a matter of survival, of necessity, if they are going to honor God in their new world, without the physical presence of the Lord, that is just around the corner. Jesus is saying, “Hang on to these truths and don’t just enter into survival mode at the sight of confusion and danger at my death, but rise above it, bear good fruit, love one another.” This means that they cannot simply turn inward into self-protection and self-preservation but that they must look outward at their brothers and sisters and as ministers, as servants help them through the difficulties to come.
And so Jesus begins in verse 12 with a command, “love one another.” He then shows them how He has loved, what true love is as an example for them, and then in verse 17 He repeats the command, “love one another.” These verses certainly exalt Christ, you have to love that as Christians. But they are not meant only for the exaltation of Christ, to be enjoyed in the mind, but also to instruct us how to live. So how do we love others, how do we obey this command? To be more specific, what does loving others look like as we consider the tragic events of last week? Two men killed by police officers, five police officers killed by sniper fire in Dallas. High profile killings videoed right before our eyes. How do we respond to such things? Does Jesus’ command to us to love one another effect our responses to situations like these? I think it does, I think there are principles of love that can help us here.
First, weep with those who weep. We are to love those who agree with us and those who don’t. This means we weep with those who weep. Who are “those?” The families who have lost their loved ones who were killed by the police. Friends who have lost friends. Without judgment, for we cannot know another person’s heart, we can weep with those who weep. Weep with the families of the police officers who were gunned down in Dallas. People are grieving and we should too. To weep with another is not to draw conclusions of right or wrong, it is to recognize that another human is hurting and to come alongside them in their hurt. We have the comfort of Christ, and we can share that comfort with others. We can weep with those officers who pulled the trigger and killed another person. Their lives and the lives of their families are also forever changed. The list certainly goes on. Weep with those who, through these tragic events, are reminded of other tragic events in the past. Some will hurt because old wounds are reopened. Some will because they will be reminded of some past injustice. The point is people are hurting and we can empathize with them because each of us knows what it means to hurt, but we can do this universally, not by picking sides.
Second, we do not rush to judgment. It is not loving to draw conclusions before facts are known. In 1 Corinthians 13 we read that love believes all things. This means in love we give the benefit of the doubt until facts are known. In our day of instant news we find that the intitial accounts are often wrong. We should not rush to judgment. We need to be sure that what we say is true and is not mixed with what is false or merely speculation. The news and social media have been awash with speculative comments stated as fact. It has been grievous to me to see this, and especially from respected Christian leaders. Much of what I have read has even been what seems clear to me as slander. For example, many are stating that the police killed the black men because of racism. Both of the highly publicized killings of black men are being tied to racism, which is to accuse the police, these particular police as racists. Even if it is not said, it is implied. The implication is they are racist and so social justice is being called for. We don’t know these officers, we cannot know yet if they were motivated by hate due to skin color, and yet they are being branded as that. This began immediately to such a degree that racism is the main topic of discussion. Now, racism is alive and well in our country and there are pockets of it all around us. Racism is an ugly part of our history too. But even though racism is a part of our past and it is still alive today, this does not mean the police who killed the black men last week were racists. To say so at this point is to slander them and to judge motives that we cannot yet know. They may be racists, and if so, I pray with you that justice prevail. But as believers, we must be careful. Love must be mixed with truth, we cannot go beyond what we know to be true. This is no different than to condemn all the protestors in Dallas as police haters because one man did his evil act of killing policemen. To love is to wait until the truth comes out, it is to believe the best for now until more is known.
Third, we pray. It is loving to pray. Our world is in need of peace, we can pray for peace. Ultimate peace will not happen until Jesus returns and yet we are told to live a quiet life, to, as much as it depends on us, be at peace with all people. Our God is a God of justice and He appoints governments for our good. Pray that where justice is needed that it will come to pass. Pray for hearts to change, pray for the police who protect us, pray for those who are angry to seek Christ, pray for justice, true unbiased justice, pray for our leaders to seek the Lord for wisdom, pray for those who have lost family members, and friends, pray for the police who are recovering from their wounds, pray for those who are mistreated, pray for peaceful protest, pray that Christians will be wise with their words and glorify God. We need to pray.
Lastly, it is loving to share the gospel of Christ to help people find their hope in Christ. During tragic times, people are looking for answers. The answer is Jesus. If our hope is in complete social justice, we will be disappointed. If our hope is in Christ, He does not disappoint. Take this time to point your neighbors to Jesus.
God uses all kinds of means to turn hearts to Himself. Let us reach out in love and show the way.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)